I know that this article is going to be very controversial because whenever the topic of Gay Marriage is brought up it leads to a lot of ill feelings and vitriol. I also know that by writing this I will forever separate myself from the ‘liberal Mormon’ community ( which I do willingly because I consider myself to be a mainstream TBM in every sense of the word!) However, I am writing this article not especially to focus on my views on Gay Marriage , but to focus on how I have been influenced by the spirit since I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and how my mission experiences continued to solidify my shift away from avid supporter to strong opponent of gay marriage. I think also that with the many many prominent examples of leaders moving towards favoring Gay Marriage ( Barack Obama being the most prominent example for instance) that a counter example is quite instructive.
At the outset I want to mention one thing that I think is important to realize. Not once in the four years since I have begun to attend church has a more conservative stance on Gay Marriage ever been pushed on me. Over the months of thought, prayer and struggle, I brought the topic up with many people and had many incredible discussions with active members and I never ONCE felt pressured by them to change my view. All the pressure came internally as I tried to justify my initial strong support for gay marriage with the position of The Brethren. At first, this was the one issue of all issues that stood poised to break my testimony. Now, I have a strong testimony that the church is on track with its views on gay marriage and that marriage between a man and a women is the only marriage that is or can ever be ordained of God! What was once a week point in my faith and testimony has evolved into a strong point as my testimony has grown and as I left myself open to the promptings of the spirit.
I grew up in a pretty liberal family and as I attended school in Boston I became even more liberal especially in my social views. Gay Marriage in particular seemed to me to be a matter of equality and human rights. I had many gay friends in college and saw their relationships as beautiful and loving. Of course, at the time I had moved to a more relativistic framework and failed to see the need to judge or deem one sexual pattern right or wrong. I truly believed that people were born that way and could not be expected to change. Even more so, I was strongly opposed to ‘the religious right’ and viewed their opposition to be an inhumane attempt to push theocracy. In short, gay marriage was an issue that I felt very very strongly about.
My conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints began around September 2008 at the very height of the election season. I campaigned hard for Obama in New Hampshire and spent election day working there getting people to the polls. I remember being extremely excited as I looked on the election results. I was excited that a new president was elected who would embody change and progressive values. The one sour spot for me was the triumph of Proposition 8 which I viewed as a travesty.
At first, I was hardly aware of the Mormon connection and as I began to realize how much the church had supported the bill I was in shock. I had gained a testimony of the truth of the Gospel, but my faith in the modern day prophets and apostles was still very tentative and shaky. My first response was to think that the church must have made a major mistake and that their stance would have to change.
Yet at the same time I could NOT deny the testimony I’d received. I could at first neither understand nor accept the churches position on Gay Marriage, but I knew it was true and I had confidence that if I continued to grow in the church answers would come. As I studied abroad in London this issue was not at the forefront even though I remember having a few heated discussions with some of my friends. I read many sites and blogs on the topic and thought about it quite often.
When I came back to America the issue exploded again. I had an internship at FIRE ( The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) and two of my co-workers ( Noah and Tim) began very extensively to criticize the church and its beliefs on gay marriage. I had just been baptized and was a brand new member. The start of that summer was a true struggle for me as I day by day listened to their attacks and felt a great deal of sympathy with what they were saying. I was truly agonized over this issue and I spoke to my bishop and branch presidency about my concerns. They were wonderfully sympathetic and I had some wonderful conversations with Brother Babbell one of the counselors. My concerns also led me to spend much time on my knees praying for answers. Yet, for weeks I didn’t find relief and I continued to be tormented by the question day after day.
Finally, one day after work I went and prayer in Love park in Philadelphia and while there received the first of a series of spiritual promptings that in time changed my understanding. At that very step, I only gained a realization of the ideal of marriage in God’s plan and an understanding that it is the preferable option. I did not at that point disagree with gay marriage in the least, but I was able to understand that heterosexual marriage was the better option.
The next week, my ward took a trip to Palmyra (which was very well timed in deed). In the Sacred Grove I took all of my concerns to the lord. There, in that sacred place in which Joseph had seen The Father and The Son I felt the spirit so strongly testify to me that I just needed to have patience and be humble and keep my heart open and that everything would work out. This was another key turning point for me. I prayed and fasted and the Lord told me to wait and gave me the patience to do so.
By the end of the summer I was able to turn my relationships with Noah and Tim into positive ones and I was able to find a greater deal of peace on the issue. Still, it continued to be a difficult one for me. In October 2009 Elder Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles came to Boston and spoke at a conference for YSA on missionary work. We had the opportunity to ask questions and I stood and asked a question about this issue. It was to me at the time an issue that bothered me so much that I even took it to an Apostle! I asked him about advice about how we could share the gospel with our gay brothers and sisters when the church stance so obviously alienated and upset them. He responded about how the church could not compromise on its stance and that he best thing to do would be to treat them with love and invite them to live up to God’s standard. At the time, this answer was a bit insufficient for me, but I was glad to know that the Brethren were aware of the importance of this issue! Someone else asked a follow up on the topic, but Elder Ballard did not say much more. I had hoped for something more. That day I walked with a member from a different state and talked quite a bit about the topic. I spoke about how my heart had been softened by the spirit in the past and how I felt led by him. I recommitted myself to continuing to be open and humble to the promptings of the spirit.
That semester I did a research paper about Homosexuality in Mormon plays for an American Drama Class and read the heartbroken words of families torn apart by the topic. I also read Angels in America and many other plays which showed Mormons and close minded and arrogant. These sources actually had the opposite effect on me. As I read them I contrasted them with the experiences I had with members filled with love and compassion. I realized that the Gay Rights movement had been overly militant and had shown great hatred towards individuals of the LDS faith merely because of their faith. I began to also realize that the legal issued surrounding Gay Marriage are more complicated than supporters make them seem. (I had been under the impression that Gay Marriage in California or elsewhere would have no negative legal consequences what so ever.) I wrote an article for my university newspaper about the passing of a Gay Marriage Ban in Maine in which I began to explore the nuances I now saw on the issue ( I still spoke against the ban at that point) I began to expand my understanding and perspective on the topic greatly due to research and continued prayer.
Yet, even with all of that I was still far away from support of the Church’s stance on Proposition 8. I saw the involvement as a mistake and the Church on the wrong side of history. The true turning point for me as undoubtedly the first time I went to the Manti Temple ( July 3, 2010) and performed sealing ordinances. When I was in the temple on that day, I received a very profound and deep testimony of the importance of family in God’s plan. Whereas my feelings about family before had been tepid, I now was filled with a great fiery testimony. I knew that the Family Proclamation to the World was an inspired doctrine from God and that nothing could ever come close to the sacredness of temple marriage between a husband and a wife. In the temple of the Lord I finally gained the witness I had sought in earnest prayer unto the lord!
Yet, even as I left on my mission I still was not comfortable with this issue. I remember cringing as I watched Boyd K. Packers talk which mentioned homosexuality in the October 2010 conference. Now, coming back from my mission I both support and endorse his every word and the Churches’ stance without equivocation! The funny thing is that nothing in particular on my mission happened to change my views on gay marriage. Actually, in Russia the population is very homophobic and the topic of homosexuality almost never came up in the course of my mission. I think I only had to teach about it 2 or 3 times in total. The first time was rather early in my mission and I remember hesitating before I taught it and saying very explicitly that this was the ‘churches’ position’ on the topic distinguishing between my view and the churches’. Yet, between that time and the next time I mentioned the topic I experienced a remarkable transformation which can only be explained as the result of loosing oneself in the service of the Lord. As my testimony of the brethren and the divine inspiration that leads the church and the mission grew leaps and bounds, so too did my conviction that the Proclamation on the Family was inspired of God and equal to scripture for our day. As I did so, I became more confident in the correctness of the LDS position. I realized that even if the whole world were for it, we MUST stand out against it because our unique view on the importance of family necessitates it.
So what have I learned on my long and windy road towards acceptance of the churches’ position on gay marriage? I learned that if we have doubts and even monumental concerns the solution is not to become less active and certainly not to leave the church in protest or dismay. Instead, the solution is to humble oneself and to not assumed that we are correct. Being teachable is the key. Also, allowing the spirit to teach us through prayer, scripture study, church attendance, faithful temple worship and living a worthy lifestyle/keeping the commandments are the absolute key. If we have a difficult concern it often requires repeated prolonged prayer over time and even then the answers often come only piecemeal. Moreover, loosing oneself in service of our brothers and sisters in the church is the true key to allowing the spirit to transform us. Brothers and sisters, if you are struggling because of this issue or any other concern about the church, take heart and courage! Stay strong, always be open to the spirit, never ever leave the path and I promise you that you will be led by the spirit and that in your own time you will gain the testimony which is precious about all!